It might be a little tough to remember at this point, but back when the Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez to that 5-year deal last offseason there was some concern that – due to competition for his services – the Tigers were overpaying and some concern over whether the Tigers revenue stream could support the deal.
For two reasons, those concerns have faded away into the realm of silly things we can’t believe we ever said. First, of course, would be Sanchez’ stellar 2013 – which saw him post the lowest ERA in the American League and be kept out of Cy Young contention solely by a minor injury that limited him to 29 starts. Any concerns that Sanchez wasn’t really that good or that he might not fare well in a full season in the American League are out the window. Sanchez looks like an ace right now, or at least as much of an ace as – say – Zack Greinke.
Second is the size of the deals that starters are getting already THIS offseason, now that the new TV money has given every team in the league a new ability to spend if not necessarily a new incentive to spend. The Tigers may or may not have finished 2013 in the red, despite strong ticket sales and a playoff run. It’s easy to argue that the Tigers couldn’t afford Sanchez in 2013, but what they were doing was probably borrowing against those future TV revenues they’ll be getting starting in 2014 and locking up Sanchez last year is looking like a better value than pursuing a starter this offseason instead (with TV check already in hand). After all, the deal was somewhat backloaded with only an $8.8 million salary in 2013 that rises to the $16 million AV range for the remainder of the deal. The deal also includes a 6th club option year that will be a bargain should Sanchez stay healthy and effective and given that Sanchez still hasn’t turned 30 he’s less of a risk to decline over the length of a contract than most free agents.
So far this offseason we have seen Tim Hudson sign a deal with an $11.5 million annual value, $11 million annual for Scott Kazmir, Dan Haren for $10, Tim Lincecum for $17.5 and Ricky Nolasco for $12.25 as well as Phil Hughes and Jason Vargas signing for $8. Despite Lincecum’s trophy case, none of these guys is currently what you’d like to think of as a top-of-the-rotation starter (though they may have solid stuff) or close to par with Sanchez’ 11.3 fWAR in his 3 years prior to free agency (not to mention his 6+ last year in the first year of his contract). There are 6 starters above anyone on this list (Kazmir was the highest at #16) among the MLBTR top 50 free agents, all of whom are likely to get significantly more money in terms of years and AV. MLBTR has predicted that Ervin Santana will get a deal similar to what Anibal Sanchez got at 5 years and $15 million AV – but I think it’s likely that they have undershot. Scott Kazmir got 30% more than they though, after all, and even the fact that Santana could get the same contract that Sanchez got speaks volumes as he has been worth only 4.6 fWAR over the past 3 years in roughly the same number of innings as Sanchez.
In short – I’d say that if Anibal Sanchez had come with one more year of team control then the Tigers would be looking at a significantly richer contract needed to resign him this offseason than the one that they signed him to last offseason. Part of that is his tremendous season, but part of that is also the money sloshing around the league right now. The Tigers decision to get out the credit cards and spend their 2014 TV windfall in advance is looking awfully smart.